March 6, 2015

Americans are still divided on why people are gay

Potential Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson made news earlier this week when he said that being gay is a “choice,” but when it comes to public opinion, polls show that Americans remain divided over whether “nature” or “nurture” is ultimately responsible for sexual orientation.

Four-in-ten Americans (42%) said that being gay or lesbian is “just the way some choose to live,” while a similar share (41%) said that “people are born gay or lesbian,” according to the most recent Pew Research Center poll on the issue, conducted in 2013.

Fewer U.S. adults (8%) said that people are gay or lesbian due to their upbringing, while another one-in-ten (9%) said they didn’t know or declined to give a response.

Americans With College Degrees More Likely to Say Gays, Lesbians Born That WayPeople with the most education are the most likely to say that gays and lesbians were born that way. Indeed, 58% of Americans with a postgraduate degree say that people are born gay or lesbian, compared with just 35% of those with a high school diploma or less.

The percentage of all Americans who believe that people are born gay or lesbian has roughly doubled (from 20% to 41%) since 1985, when the question was asked in a Los Angeles Times survey.

More than three decades of Gallup polls also show a considerable rise in the view that being gay or lesbian is a product of “nature” rather than “nurture.” But the most recent survey, in 2014, still finds that the nation remains split in its feelings on the origins of sexual orientation.

Americans Split on Origins of Homosexuality

The 2014 Gallup poll found that 42% of respondents said gay people are born that way, while 37% said people are gay due to “factors such as their upbringing and environment.” Gallup’s surveys ask the question somewhat differently than do Pew Research surveys; Gallup does not offer respondents the option to say that homosexuality is a choice.

In any case, the question is not settled for Americans or in the scientific community, where the ongoing search for a “gay gene” has yielded intriguing results that continue to be debated. Meanwhile, the American Psychological Association says that while there is no scientific consensus on the origins of sexual orientation, “most people experience little or no sense of choice” about it.

Topics: Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. Craig Creighton2 years ago

    Ok. Everyone needs to think about this. Nobody is born gay or straight. That doesn’t mean a person should not be gay or whatever. It’s just true. Just like when first getting into skateboarding after a bit you may feel drawn to vert skating or maybe street skating. Maybe you just don’t get that into skating at all. It’s all about what you have been exposed to. It’s pretty simple psychology. Same as how we do not have free will. All our decisions are based on past experience. It’s like you are looking for an excuse to be gay. Was I born to like a Gibson scale length guitar over a fender? No and nobody really cares. Wouldnt it be crazy if people defined themselves and others based on what scale lenght guitar they play? That’s the goal right? People not caring about who you kiss on and stuff right?

  2. Raphael2 years ago

    Why is choice not listed as a reason for polled
    people to select in the survey. The listed (upbringing-environment
    put no or little responsibility on the people in question.

  3. OldBut YoungMoney2 years ago


    It’s not secret that the biggest advocates for “born that way” are that of the APA and every other industry in the back pocket of the democrat party, almost every industry. So this support for homosexuals are born that way the democrat party pushes is only because they have a lot riding on the gay movement. “Homosexuality is genetic”. Ugg I feel like common sense just dies here when we venture into this territory. Ok here are two arguments and actualities that can and do just destroy that argument and has destroyed this argument given conclusive studies totaling 8 studies spanning over decades as of late 2014, just look it up, on identical twins and also studies involving ex gays for some time now. For my first argument, it is quite simple. A person who was once gay becomes an ex gay and or heterosexual. That is some simple proof. Now for argument 2, if you have 2 identical twins, in which one twin is gay and the other is not then this proves homosexuality isn’t genetic. Now these identical twins both have 100 percent the same genetic makeup and the same exact womb exposure. Yet one is gay and one is not. The only difference between these two identical twins are their lives, their environment, what they expose themselves to, and their independent decisions they have made throughout their life. Which means it is a choice. But, not the choice you are thinking of. I mean it’s a series of choices. What you chose to expose yourself too or what exposure you have endured. Have you ever heard the more you are exposed to something, the more you grow to tolerate, like, or want something? All of this proves that homosexuality is not genetic and all of the credible applicable studies involving twins and homosexuality proves as such. It’s just utterly pseudo science to say that homosexuality is genetic. It really is. Furthermore, this proves that homosexuality is a choice, and has to be acquired.

    1. Dylan Haenel2 years ago

      Incorrect. We are finding now that epigenetics (when methyl attaches to DNA) can turn off and turn on different genes. Twins have differing epigenetics. Also homosexuality is found in more than 1,000 different species. Animals follow instinct and do not make a conscious choice. Plus try telling that to kids that have attempted suicide because they are gay. If only they knew they could just choose not to be!

      1. Iron nomad2 years ago

        Tell that to all of the kids that choose to be gay these days. It has become such a trend. If you want to try to disagree you’d just be wrong. I have known quiet a few people who were gay for a time and then were straight. You can try to claim they were ohhh bi sexual. But they had no interest in the opposite sex. And then one day went back. So much of homosexuality is a choice.

    2. Gayperson2 years ago

      We don’t chose our attractions. We can choose to have intercourse with the opposite sex, just like you can choose to have intercourse with the same sex. Either way, neither of us would be happy. That is your response from me. We do not choose our attractions, we do not choose who we love. We choose to live our lives happily. Being gay is not who we have sex with. It’s who we are attracted to. We cannot change our attractions. We can pretend that we are heterosexual, but just like if you pretended to be homosexual, we would not have a good life. You seem to believe that homosexual attractions do not exist because they inhibit reproduction. We still have vestigial traits right? What use do they have? None. Yet we still have them. Why? Just because. Why are we attracted to the same sex? Just because.

    3. Anonymous1 year ago

      How could you say that someone would ever choose to be gay? Why would someone in their right mind wake up one day and say to themself, “Hmm, you know what? I’m going to be gay from now on! I’ll get death threats, become a second class citizen, possibly lose my family, and not have kids! What a great choice I just made!” No. That’s not how it works. Also, think to yourself, when did you wake up and say to yourself, “Yep, I’ll just be straight.” Sexual attraction is something you can’t control. If you see someone of the opposite gender and get all excited down there, you can’t just say to yourself, “Nope, you’re not attracted to them, cancel that feeling right now.” Yet, people seem to think this is different for gay people. Being gay is NOT a choice, and whoever thinks it is should truly consider this

  4. Paul Schilling2 years ago

    From my course of study (postgraduate level) and plenty of outside research I believe that American politicians, members of the American Psychological Association, the American Scientific Community, the American Medical Association and their counterparts all over the world are in the process of hoping for something that they may never get. I do believe that a lot of this phenomena is currently dominated by lobbyists, main-stream media, and not to leave out the political community, inasmuch as these organizations are doing what seems to be a pandemic on a thorough process and accepting the results as they come in. It is certainly what is believed to be America – in all facets of life – are becoming more than lazy to the point of lackadaisical – which seems to be alright with them. Currently it is not surprising at all that the percentiles remain the same for 25-years. Let’s face it, the more any protected class can get entitled or empowered to take something they have not earned the worse the entire problem becomes.

    As a writer by profession, I really do not care how a person lives their life, with the exception of a flaunt-it public display. First it seemed that every law regarding voting was completely turned on its side. The outward display of rights and voting in California was a perfect example of a republican-democracy. However, what the LGBT activists and community was able to do there was extraordinarily beyond the law. Okay that is pretty much my take: “Let’s face it, the more any protected class can get entitled or empowered to take something they have not earned the worse the entire problem becomes.” Examples of this are clearly seen in the reckless disregard in same-sex unions and how it appears as though Judeo-Christian beliefs in the USA are on the decline.

  5. Mutakallim2 years ago

    The Pre-Mosaic Law is silent on the causes of homosexuality. The Qur’an on the other mentions that silence. It is of no use mentioning it. But right and freedom of speech demands to all to know what is in the Qur’an.

  6. @FMShyanguya2 years ago

    What does the Church teach?
    Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. – Cf. CCC 2357. Therefore the Church does not venture to state how the exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex makes its appearance in the psyche i.e. in the soul [cf. Soul, New Advent]. From the Church’s perspective, it is a disorder of the soul.
    What does Scripture say?
    The origin of the cult of idols [Cf. Ws 14 : 12-14] ” The invention of idols was the origin of fornication (probably in the sense of religious infidelity), […]
    The consequences of idolatry Cf. Ws 14:22-27 Soon it is not enough for them that their knowledge of God be at fault; in the great struggle to which ignorance condemns their lives they next give such massive ills the name of peace. […] their orgies with outlandish ceremonies, they no longer retain any purity in their lives or their marriages, one treacherously murdering the next or doing him injury by adultery. […] pollution of souls, sins against nature, disorder in marriage, adultery, debauchery. For the worship of unnamed (i.e. unreal or unspeakable) idols is the beginning, cause, and end of every evil.
    My conclusion
    Idolatry and demonic/evil spirits when men give themselves over to them are the cause of sins against nature, with those sins being a proof of paganism. And yes I do believe that some people may be born that way (at the moment I have no reason to discount some of the the testimony of homosexuals and their parents). How the exactly the “infection” occurs and is passed on, perhaps future research may be able to discover.
    Cf. FMS’ answers to “Does God create some people Heterosexual and others Homosexual?” and “According to Catholic teaching, where does the disorder stem from?” Both on Christianity StackExchange.

  7. C Zimmerman2 years ago

    It’s difficult to see how sexual orientation could be inborn, when no one has any sexual orientation before puberty provides the hormones that fuel sexual desire. (Gender attitudes are not sexual orientation.)

  8. Sandy Hines2 years ago

    It is so obvious to me that gay people are born that way, it is not a choice anymore than being heterosexual is a choice. We may never understand why. I do know that in some families there are more gay people than in others. Maybe it is a recessive gene. Who knows. Why does it matter why ? I believe the more intelligent and educated you are you finally will come to the same conclusion, they are born that way, It is not a choice.

    1. MEW2 years ago


      Sexuality, like all complex human behaviors, is not “inborn” and immutable but develops, and indeed retains flexibility throughout life (much to the consternation of people on both sides of the issue). Your view ignores all the examples of former heterosexuals turning homosexual and vice versa, as in the case of Mayor De Blasio’s wife to name but one obvious contemporary example.

      The modern science of neuroplasticity reveals that our brains continue to change—to be molded—across our lifespan, in response to our behaviors, our relationships, and our life experiences. Our brains obviously influence our behavior. But the reverse is also true: our behaviors influence our brain. So our choices have neurobiological consequences: our behaviors hard-wire, and re-wire, our brain in ways that profoundly shape who we are and how we function.

      In The Brain That Changes Itself, psychiatrist Norman Doidge summarizes research on the neurobiological aspects of sexual development. He writes: “The human libido is not a hardwired, invariable biological urge but can be curiously fickle, easily altered by our psychology and the history of our sexual encounters,” and he goes on to conclude: “Sexual taste is obviously influenced by culture and experience and is often acquired and then wired into the brain.”

      Similarly no adult “chooses” to especially like particular foods but it is well known that the surrounding culture one grows up in shapes and conditions one’s taste for particular foods.

      Moreover, decades of research examining genetically identical twins raised in different environments shows that the twin of a homosexual is only 20% more likely to be homosexual (research cited by renowned scientist Francis Collins, Head of the Human Genome Project, in his book the Language of God). This suggest mild predisposition, not predetermination. By contrast, a certain genetic variant makes roughly half of our population more than 1600% more likely to commit crimes and end up in jail–the Y chromosome carried by males. Any man defending himself on this basis in a court of law against criminal behavior would be laughed out of court.

      Finally, spare us the condescension about level of education and intelligence forcing the conclusion that sexual orientation is fixed and inborn. More precisely, it is one’s level of liberal education and ideology that leads to such a conclusion. Science and reason, however, tell a stubbornly different story.

      1. TomD2 years ago

        MEW, a very well-reasoned response. Sexuality is much more fluid, and open to suggestion and influence, especially early in life, than we realize. In the past, we just took “normal” sexuality for granted; now, due to radical cultural influences, we no longer can.

        Today, a higher percentage of young people “experience” same-sex attraction in their developmental years, due, in large measure, to suggestion and cultural exposure. Many, if not most of them, eventually develop heterosexual impulses as they mature.

        Imagine, for the purposes of illustration, if young children were isolated and purposefully and exclusively exposed to non-traditional sexual ideas and practices. Would this unique exposure lead to a higher percentage of certain kinds of unconventional sexual beliefs and practices. Most likely.

        You’re right, our sexuality is not genetically hard wired . . . it is influenced by hormones and other non-biological elements. Modification during in utero development of the human sexual reproductive system, in normal hormone types and levels, may play a significant role. Environment plays a factor, leading an inclination to a tendency. As with many atypical variations in human tendency/behavior, homosexuality develops in about 1 to 2% of people.

        Whatever the biological influence may be, we play with fire when we alter the natural order in our cultural attitudes . . . just look at the change in sexual belief/behavior in young people as they have been increasingly exposed to more unconventional ideas/practices through our culture.

    2. Jane2 years ago

      Being gay is a preference. There is no way God made straight, gay and bi sexual people. We all have preferences for everything. It doesnt really matter though becuse preferences are a natural phenomenon. Unless gay people carry an actual genetic make up…its a preference.

      1. Aaron Rosenberg2 years ago

        “Being gay is a preference.”

        Incorrect. Sexual orientation is innate.

        “There is no way God made straight, gay and bi sexual people.”

        Being religious is a preference. Why do you speak of “god” as if any work has ever been accomplished on your behalf to show its existence? None has, ever, despite millennia of desperate and brash assertions. That work still remains for you before you can justify your very personal bigotry with superstition.

        We all have preferences for everything. It doesnt really matter though becuse preferences are a natural phenomenon. Unless gay people carry an actual genetic make up…its a preference.

    3. Anonymous1 year ago

      Who would choose such a difficult life? Have you ever know a gay person….had a conversation with him/her about them “knowing their sexuality” from a very young age?

  9. David2 years ago

    I would like to see a questionnaire that destinguishes between their sexual orientation and having sex. Do straight people who think it’s a choice destinguish between the thoughts/feelings vs. the sex? Do straight people believe both are a choice?

  10. Sabrina Fair2 years ago

    I am just very surprised at some of these beliefs of people. I have read studies where
    they have seen multiple gay people in families. It so clearly appears to be hereditary, that
    I am shocked that no one is saying that. I know someone with a gay Father, gay brother, gay uncle, and gay nephew, gay cousin. Surely, others have seen this. I actually liked Ben Carson as a Presidential candidate until he came up with the statement that “being gay is a choice.” It so clearly is not, and it brings so much pain and anguish to so many families, that hearing these comments only brings more. I really thought we had come further as a species in terms of intelligence. It’s very logical. When you see it run in families, than you know, clearly, that no one chose it. Therefore, we should quit making such a big deal about it, and embrace the people who, I believe, were born to something that is natural for them. They still are the same as us, only sometimes even better! 😉

  11. Jayson Rex2 years ago

    Since medicine is an art rather than a science, we will have to wait another, say, one or two thousand years before a preliminary conclusion can be reached as to why people have a sexual and emotional attraction for the same sex.

    The question is: why should we spend financial and scientific resources on such topics when money is always in short supply for medical research aimed at saving lives? Maybe we should be less concerned with what goes on in other people’s private lives and focus more upon what humans really need to make their lives healthier and, yes, happier.

  12. Gary Mullennix2 years ago

    Schizophrenia: The Bearded Lady Disease.

    Theme: humans are born with a sex but not a gender. They learn what is expected. But, something else, quite subtle goes on to firect a sexual desire for either opposite sex or same sex. It could be the Freudian Described subconscious. But, no one, repeat, no one has yet successfully supported any theory with test data to prove the cause. However, the tension endured by being taught your gender but not having it internalized appears to be manifested as schizophrenia and too frequently results in suicide. As acceptance has risen and more people come out, the suicide rate for those between mid teens and forties has dropped significantly. Gender is a behavior not a birth condition as is sex, hair color and toes. No one would choose the anxiety of not living their gender. Support and understanding is the appropriate behavior of the public, parents, family and friends.

  13. Martin Jones2 years ago

    I was one of the founding members of the Stonewall Democratic Club of Ventura County and I was the only straight member of the Board. I did this as a matter of civil rights.
    I must say those other members I spoke with about choosing which way they chose to go it was commonly stated no conscious choice was made.

  14. David Moyles2 years ago

    What does the data tell us about the opinion of gays?

  15. Don2 years ago

    It is my belief that the vast majority of people choose to live the “gay” lifestyle and a small percentage have a defect in their genes that throw them off balance in their thinking. Choices is what all of us make according to our capacity in living our lives. Religion also plays a major part of our choices in what we do, good or bad. In the end what we do with our lives during our mortal sojourn on earth will have a major impact upon what our future will be. It is better to make as many wise choices as we can so that we will have a very positive influence upon other people.

  16. bob2 years ago

    As the father of a gay son, I too have often heard that gays choose to be that way. The question I ask myself when I hear such information, is why anyone in their right mind would choose a world of such inner confusion and conflict, a world where even in the most liberal of places, the declaration of oneself as gay can cause scorn, violence. debasement and misunderstanding? It makes no sense for me that anyone would profess to be gay if it were just a whim.

  17. George2 years ago

    I did not choose to be gay. It took a long time for me to recognize that my attraction to men was meaningful, and it was a very difficult road for me to cross. At an early age I was intrigued by men, but my upbringing was strictly heterosexual. Therefore, I fought those thoughts and urges for many years.
    An awakening came to me in my late 40’s and I realized that my attraction to men was genuine. Since coming out to myself (and, belatedly to others), my comfort – mental as well as spiritual – has grown immensely. It became quite clear several years ago that being gay is a perfectly natural life (no, not a “lifestyle”). Having finally grasped and accepted my true sexuality, I am far more confident in myself and aware of who I am.

  18. ron2 years ago

    According to the latest CDC study on AIDS, 3 % of males practice male on male sex (MOM). I think that would certainly qualify them as Gay. But when you see the media , i.e. TV and most liberal media, you would think that homosexuality is much more prevalent .

    I do think that our society plays it up and pushes the Gay life style. We are changing our education to tell our children that we must approve/condone this life style. This should not be forced on us or our children.

    We don’t have to approve of everyone’s actions but they have the right to their own life style as long as it is does not break the law.

    1. Nan2 years ago

      I know this is awfully late, but suggesting that teaching your children to accept people as they are is “forcing” anything on them is ridiculous.

      Society doesn’t teach you that it’s alright to disapprove of women who prefer tall or short men, men who prefer blondes or brunettes, people who prefer dogs over cats, or people who prefer cake over donuts. In fact, one of the main talking points in many school guidance programs is that accepting diversity is the best way to live a happy, productive lifestyle, which is objectively true.

      There’s nothing to “approve” or “disapprove” of regarding the gay “life style,” whether the behavior boils down to biology or choice. There’s nothing “forceful” about representing people who make different choices than you as people.

      As a queer person living in the South, where (logically, due to environmental pressures) there should be fewer of us, I can certainly tell you that the 3% of males who engage in male-on-male sex according to the CDC are probably just the only ones who self-report. It is highly unlikely that in a population of individuals only 3.5% strong (which is the estimated percentage of LGB individuals in the US, excluding T+) more than a hundred individuals in the same small town, in a highly discouraging environment, would manifest homosexual behavior.

      Yes, we have a right to our own lifestyles, but we also have a right to be treated like human beings within the context of society. Banning schools from teaching about homosexual behavior and the importance of sexuality in reference to several prominent LGBT+ historical figures is not simply “not approving of our actions,” it’s actively choosing to erase and/or demonize an entire group whose behaviors are not harmful to the greater portion of society in any capacity.

      Seriously, by erasing LGBT+ individuals, you’re not discouraging your children from the behavior (which is highly supported as an inborn behavior, or at least a biological predisoposition). You’re simply encouraging them to remain closeted if they ARE gay or otherwise LGBT+, living their lives under constant pressure to please their close-minded parents. This is why, more than bullying and violence or public disapproval, a disproportionate number of gay (etc) teens develop mood disorders or commit suicide.

      Relatedly: If “liberal media” is too liberal for you, and not liberal enough for people who actually identify as liberal, then one, the other, or both of you is probably using the term wrong.

  19. W S WEBB2 years ago

    No one can prove they would be gay, just declare it.

  20. W. Gebauer2 years ago

    There are many dimensions to choice — I doubt that anybody consciously chooses to be sexually attracted to men, women, or both. Everybody makes choices on how to live their life, including when and how to act upon their attractions. When you ask if being gay is a choice, do you mean the internal, same-sex attraction, or the decision to live as a relatively out, gay person?

  21. Wendy Gomez2 years ago

    I’m sure some people are born “confused” because of some problem with their hormones, but in my 71 years I have seen so many people, usually under the influence of drink or drugs, decide to “experiment” – usually after a heterosexual relationship has broken up, or because it is considered “hip”! This experience is probably shared by many and is probably why so many don’t believe that all homosexuals are born that way.

  22. Kbrown2 years ago

    Most folks won’t remember making a conscious choice to become right or left handed either. Several folks I know remember making a conscious choice to become gay or straight. Is it possible that the “nature or nurture” question is a pure logical “or” meaning that it could be either or both rather than an exclusive “or”.

  23. Packard Day2 years ago

    One might wonder if it were even possible to raise a child to be gay if that were indeed the goal of some self-serving progressive parent? Hollywood eccentrics aside, who would ever wish their own young child to be gay? Which of course, does not detract in any way from the necessary societal tolerances we must all have for the lifestyles of our fellow citizens who happen to be gay…if that makes sense.

  24. AgentG2 years ago

    In terms of equal rights under the law, what does it even matter if homosexuality is a choice or not? Either way all people deserve the same rights and opportunities under the law.